Trey Radel, the Florida freshman congressman charged with cocaine possession last November, returned to the Capitol after a stint in rehab only to learn that he'd picked up a primary challenger. Paige Kreegel, a former member of the Florida State House, formally launched a campaign to unseat Radel today.
Without explicitly mentioning Radel's ethics or legal troubles, Kreegel, who lost to Radel in the 2012 primary, contends that the constituents of Florida's 19th District deserve "serious, sober representation."
"Southwest Florida should expect a congressman who can lead, a congressman without distractions, a congressman they can trust," Kreegel said in a statement announcing his candidacy. "The partisan bickering, frat boy house-style leadership and divisive rhetoric in Washington has become an embarrassment, and southwest Floridians deserve better."
Late last year, Radel was the target of an undercover sting operation when he was busted for possession of cocaine. He pleaded guilty in a Washington, D.C. Superior Court and was placed on one year's probation with "minimal supervision."
With his in-patient rehab behind him, Radel expressed a desire to continue serving in Congress, although it's not clear whether he will seek re-election this fall. Kreegel may not be the only challenger hoping to oust Radel. State Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto is considered a likely candidate, and former Rep. Connie Mack -Radel's predecessor - is also believed to be considering a bid to win back the seat.
Kreegel, a medical doctor by trade who served in the state legislature from 2004 to 2012, said his medical experience made him "uniquely qualified to address" the issues with the new health care law.
"The politicians in Washington had their chance with health care reform, now it's time to bring in a doctor that will hold them accountable and help cure this disaster," Kreegel stated. "I will focus on common-sense solutions that are based on conservative principles and conservative values."
The House Ethics committee established an investigative subcommittee Dec. 16 to determine whether Radel's criminal actions violated the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation or other applicable standard of conduct in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities. If he is found guilty of the alleged violations, he could face three possible courses of action - expulsion, which is unlikely, or censure or reprimand.